Pizza is a massive part of our lives. From Chicago’s delectable deep-dish to by-the-slice from the streets of New York, it’s everywhere. More often than not, it’s a call or a click away, delivering an easy Friday night meal.
Nowadays, there are just about as many flavor combinations as there are varieties of wine, which can make pizza pairings a little tricky. But in the instance of the quintessential classic, the Italian Pizza Margherita, pairing is (fortunately) pretty straightforward.
It’s best to stick to the adage, “what grows together goes together”, meaning you don’t need to look any further than red Italian wines to pair perfectly with a pie topped with red (tomatoes), green (basil), and white (mozzarella).
The Origin and History of the Pizza Margherita
Inspired by the colors of the Italian national flag, the date of its precise creation is a bit hazy. Pizza Margherita (or Margherita pizza, as most Americans say) is undoubtedly named after the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, who reigned from January 9, 1878, to July 29, 1900.
The pizza, under its namesake, was invented in June 1889 by Raffaele Esposito, the chef at Pizzeria di Pietro in Naples, during a visit from the Queen. In fact, there is a plaque hanging nearby commemorating the 100th anniversary of its creation.
However, the tale is a slight fabrication of the truth. According to a translation of Napoli.Repubblica.It, the author of Naples, Contours, and Surroundings describes a pizza with the same toppings that existed as early as 1830.
In reality, Pizza Margherita wasn’t invented for the Queen but rather made famous because of her.
Pizza Margherita Wine Pairings
Pizza Margherita is in a different realm than most cheesy, topping-laden pizzas found in America. Italian pizza, replicated with authenticity in pizzerias across the U.S., has a fabulous crunchy crust and uses high-quality farm-fresh ingredients. It’s the perfect hand-held combination of bread, cheese, vegetables, and herbs, bite after bite.
While cracking a beer with your Friday night ‘za is temptingly easy, nothing elevates the flavors of Pizza Margherita more than Italian wine.
Chianti is the ultimate pizza wine for red wine drinkers, made from the Sangiovese grape in Tuscany. The pairing’s success is thanks to the acidity in the tomatoes matching with the heightened acidity that’s naturally in Sangiovese.
The Chianti region offers a myriad of quality levels, providing options depending on the quality of your pie. You can get a great value $15 entry-level Chianti that shines next to a pizza from the freezer section of your grocery store. A basic Chianti offers a light to mid-weight body with tart red fruit flavors, bright acidity, and tannins with texture.
In contrast, a quality Chianti Classico – either Riserva or Gran Selezione – is still approachable in the range of $35-$50. This quality level of wine offers more body with flavors varying from ripe red fruit to subtle vegetal notes. The wines also have higher acidity levels because of grapes that grow on hillside elevations and firmer, grippier tannins from extended amounts of aging.
In this clip from Pizza Pairings with Jeff Porter on SOMM TV, Porter visits a New York pizzeria, F&F, and pairs Pizza Margherita (although without basil) with a magnum bottle of Monteraponi Chianti Classico.
For white wine lovers, or versions of Pizza Margherita that offer a generous amount of cheese, a light high-acidity white wine, like Italian Pinot Grigio, provides a refreshing pairing. Think about how well lemon and butter complement each other in seafood. The same argument goes for a crisp light white that helps cut through an ooey-gooey pizza.
The northeast of Italy is the hub for quality Pinot Grigio. Dry styles with intense zesty fruit flavors come from grapes that grow in the Alto Adige, Trentino, and Friuli-Venezia regions. Veneto also offers Pinot Grigio, although they are more neutral-tasting and often produced in higher volumes.
Of course, sparkling wine is also a good consideration when determining what to drink with Pizza Margherita. For special occasions, opt for versions made in the traditional method, or Metodo Classico, which requires the same winemaking processes as Champagne.
The brioche quality of the wine, which comes from lees contact, is a nice nod to the pizza’s crunchy crust. This style of sparkling wine is dry and high in acidity, helping cut through the fattiness of the cheese.
Look for labels from Trentodoc DOC or Franciacorta DOC; both are made with Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco.